Memorials to those who have passed on come in all shapes and sizes. Most people are familiar with headstones, graveside benches and statues found in cemeteries around the world. While they are on display for all who visit the graveyards where they people are laid to rest, they are very different from public place memorials that are intended to commemorate a specific location where a fatality occurred.
Roadside memorials, for example, often occur in these two circumstances: someone’s dead body is found alongside a roadway and when a traffic-related death has happened. In cases that involve two motor vehicles it is common to see flowers, painted crosses, balloons, small statues, pinwheels, and stuffed animals. But when the incident, which may not always be fatal, involves a bicyclist, it is becoming increasing popular to see Ghost Bikes. These two-wheeled memorials serve a dual purpose: to honor the loss of a bicyclist’s life and to remind those who drive cars, trucks, and motorcycles to share the road.
The origins of ghost bike, also known as a ghost cycle or white cycle that can be found across the globe, may be an offshoot of a project by San Francisco artist Jo Slota. He is reported to have turned abandoned bicycles into works of art. According to his website, the project began in 2002. He began painting the bicycles he found white after they had been stripped of their useful parts.
Slota said he viewed them as ‘dead bikes’. He painted “their skeletal remains to emphasize their ghostlike quality.”
His project and the discovery in 2003 of a bike in Missouri at a vehicular crash site with a sign warning motorists to beware of cyclists both harken back It has been suggested that Slota’s work may have been the inspiration.
Over time the ghost bike project became a symbol of tragic bicyclists deaths on the road in more cities across the country, such as Philadelphia, Albuquerque and then around the world. These bikes, also stripped down to deter theft and bearing placards, have been found in London, Berlin, Canada, and even Chile where the roadside memorial is called “Bicianimita” that is accompanied by a traditional small house for the soul of a road accident victim.
Photo credit: By ProfDEH (Original photograph) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons